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Goa, state in western India, formerly part of Portuguese India, bordered on the north by Maharashtra state, on the west by the Arabian Sea, and on the south and east by Karnataka state. Goa is India's smallest state, covering an area of 3,702 sq km (1,429 sq mi).
Goa is situated on the Malabar Coast and has sandy beaches and a tropical climate. Inland, Goa becomes hilly, stretching to part of the Western Ghats. About one-quarter of the state is covered by forest. The climate is generally warm, with average January temperatures ranging from 19° to 29° C (66° to 84° F), and average June temperatures ranging from 25° to 33° C (77° to 91° F). Goa experiences a monsoon season from June through September; it accounts for four-fifths of the state's average annual rainfall.
Goa had a population of 1,169,793 at the time of the 1991 census, giving it an average density of 316 persons per sq km (819 per sq mi). Since then it has grown to 1,343,998 (2000). Panaji has been the capital since 1843. The population of Goa includes native inhabitants, Portuguese descendants, and the descendants of marriages between the two groups. Goa's official language is Konkani, although English, Hindi, and Marathi are also spoken. Most of the native inhabitants are Hindu, while many of the Portuguese descendants are Christians. In 1991, 76 percent of the population was literate. Goa University (founded in 1985) is located in the town of Taleigao.
Agriculture is the main economic activity. Chief products are rice, cashew and betel nuts, coconuts, mangoes, teak, blackwood, bamboo, and fish. Industries include manganese mining, salt drying, and sugar milling.
Goa has a single-chamber legislative assembly of 40 members. The state sends three members to the Indian national parliament: two to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and one to Lok Sabha (Lower House).
The ancient Hindu city of Goa (Sanskrit Gove,Govapuri, or Gomant) lies in ruins. Nearby, the city of Old Goa (Portuguese Velha Goa), the former capital of Goa, was founded about 1440 and conquered by the Portuguese in 1510. It is also nearly abandoned, although it contains several very old buildings, including the cathedral founded by the Portuguese conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque in 1511 and the convent of Saint Francis of Assisi (1517). Bom Jesus, a converted mosque dating from the same period, contains the tomb of the Spanish Jesuit missionary Saint Francis Xavier, who began his missionary work in Goa in 1542. At the height of its prosperity (1575?-1675?), Old Goa had a population of 20,000. By the mid-18th century, disease epidemics caused the Portuguese viceroy to move to Nova Goa (Panaji). From 1962 until May 1987, when it attained statehood, Goa was part of Goa, Daman, and Diu, a union territory of India named for the three districts it comprised. Daman and Diu retain territorial status.
Most visitors treat Panaji as little more than a transport hub, but this lovely state capital has retained its Portuguese heritage in a lived-in, knockabout kind of way and exudes an aura more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than of India. If it weren't for the crush at the bus depot, the unmistakable buzz of auto-rickshaws and the fact that the bridge over the Mandovi River has fallen down twice in the last nine years, Panaji could seem like any siesta-ridden provincial town on the Iberian Peninsula. It contains all the quaint Mediterranean iconography - from the cramped cobbled streets, pastel-hued terraces and flower-bedecked balconies to the terracotta-tiled roofs, whitewashed churches and those small bars and cafes that are the social lifeblood of secular Portugal.
The old district of Fontainhas is the most atmospheric area to walk around, and includes the Chapel of St Sebastian which contains a striking crucifix that originally stood in the Palace of the Inquisition in Old Goa. The Church of the Immaculate Conception, consecrated in 1541, is Panaji's main place of worship, and it was here that recently arrived sailors from Portugal gave thanks for a safe passage. It's worth taking one of the river cruises along the Mandovi River, but try to persuade your captain not to loiter under the bridge spans in order to admire Indian engineering.
Old Goa is still the spiritual heart of Christian Goa, and its most famous building is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which contains the tomb and mortal remains of the peripatetic St Francis Xavier, credited with introducing Christianity to much of South-East Asia. Also of interest is the Convent & Church of St Francis of Assisi, which has gilded and carved woodwork, murals depicting scenes from the saint's life, and a floor substantially made of carved gravestones. The largest of the churches is the Portuguese-Gothic Se Cathedral, dating from 1562, which houses the so-called 'Golden Bell', whose resonant peal can be heard thrice daily. Other gems include the Church of St Cajetan which was modelled on St Peter's in Rome and the Royal Chapel of St Anthony. Not a single secular building remains standing, so don't say God doesn't work in mysterious ways.
Calangute isn't one of the best Goanese beaches: there are hardly any palms, the sand is contaminated with red soil and the beach drops rapidly into the sea. There is, however, plenty going on, especially if you don't mind playing a minor role in this stage-managed parody of what travelling is meant to be about. Try heading off the beaten track unless you need a bit of R 'n' R to recover from life on the road, or want to mix it with the Simons and Sandras of this world who are visiting India to pep up their winter suntans.
|Because Goa has a large Christian community, most Christian festivals such as Easter and Christmas are celebrated along with a host of minor deity days such as the Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and the Feast of St Francis Xavier, both in December. Hindu festivals tend to occur at the beginning of the calendar year. The Festival of Shantadurga Prasann, in January, involves a night-time procession of chariots bearing the goddess followed by over 100,000 faithfuls. In the colourful and dramatic Procession of Umbrellas at Cuncolim south of Margao, the same goddess is honoured with a procession carrying a solid silver image of her to the original temple site. The three day zatra of Shri Mangesh takes place in February in the lavish temple of the same name. During the same month in the old Fontainhas district of Panaji, the Maruti zatra draws huge and colourful crowds. March sees the festival of Holi or Shigmo.|